The 2021-22 season has been less than stellar thus far for Anthony Davis and the Los Angeles Lakers, and much of that falls on the shoulders of the former No. 1 pick. This was supposed to be the year Davis took over as the Lakers’ best player, but that blueprint hasn’t worked out the way it was drawn up.
Davis has missed more than a third of the team’s games this season, playing in just 27 of 41. When Davis has played, his production hasn’t been up to par for a player of his caliber. He’s averaging 23.3 ppg, which is on the lower end for Davis. Honestly, it feels like we’ve been saying this about Davis since he entered the league in 2012.
Top-five talent doesn’t always equal a top-five player in the association. Davis seems to have regressed over his three years in Los Angeles. That first pandemic-interrupted season in which the Lakers won The Bubble championship; Davis was the man in the regular season and postseason. That year Davis scored 26 ppg and even made 33 percent of his three-point attempts. The future was looking super bright for Davis at this point, especially after playing a major role in the Lakers’ 17th title.
It felt like we’d finally be able to see LeBron James take a backseat and hand the keys to the Rolls to Davis after that championship. Since then, Davis has played in just 63 of a possible 113 games. Most of his stats have taken a dip, and just watching him play, he looks like a different player. He has the tools to dominate every night regardless of who the Lakers play. But that hasn’t been the case, and I’m beginning to think it never will be. When healthy, Davis would easily be one of the top centers in the league alongside Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, and Karl-Anthony Towns. You can also throw Rudy Gobert in there, although he can’t create his own scoring opportunities in the same manner as the others.
We’re only a year removed from James and Davis taking the top two spots on ESPN’s top 100 NBA players list heading into the 2020-21 season. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. I’m not even sure if it can be said that Davis is a Top 10 NBA player right now. Forget about the top-five. Aside from the availability aspect of his game, the one characteristic Davis has always seemed to lack is leadership. All the talent in the world can’t propel a supposed franchise centerpiece past a lack of leadership qualities. James’ cup, on the other hand, runneth over in leadership skills.
It’s no secret that Davis isn’t a fan of playing the center position. Although he does it at times, he’s made it clear of his opposition to doing so. “I like playing the 4. I don’t really like playing the 5.” Davis expressed before the 2019-20 season.
Playing out of position is part of being a leader. Yes, he’s done it in spurts, but we already know how he feels about it, and more importantly, his team knows. James has played center this season himself. LeBron has played basically every position on the floor for L.A. this year between the injuries, COVID, and this team being totally out of sync to begin the year. If King James can play the 5 without proclaiming his distaste for it, then so can Davis.
By year six or seven in the NBA, most players are what they are. Every time I hear an analyst use the “top-five talent” line when describing Davis, my eyes roll into the back of my head like The Undertaker circa 1991. To expect Anthony Davis to become much more than what he’s been, 10 years into his career, is absolutely ludicrous. He’s a great player if he’s cast in a supporting role. As the No. 2 option, 1B or however you want to phrase it, that’s precisely where Davis should be. We’ve seen Davis as a leading man in New Orleans, and he got them out of the first round once in seven years. Now that it’s time for him to take the reins in L.A., Davis is nowhere to be found.
Davis has more than likely hit his ceiling already with his performance during the bubble season being his peak. It’s time we lowered the expectation level for Davis and accept him for who he is. He’s a great good player, a future Hall of Famer, but not one a team can depend on to take them to the Promised Land.